Monday, June 6, 2011

Lawyers in Alabama State House vote-buying case may ask potential jurors: Is gambling a sin?

As jury selection begins today in the State House vote-buying case, lawyers for defendant Milton McGregor want to know whether the prospective jurors think gambling is a sin.

The dog track magnate, Sen. Harri Anne Smith, I-Slocomb; Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery; two former state senators, a casino spokesman, a former legislative employee and two of Montgomery's most influential lobbyists -- Tom Coker and Bob Geddie -- will stand trial beginning today on charges of buying and selling votes for a gambling bill last year.

Prospective jurors already have turned in questionnaires that probe their views and background. But defense lawyers are seeking to ask additional questions about their beliefs on politics, gambling and law enforcement.

Defense lawyers and prosecutors have submitted additional proposed voir dire questions to the judge to try to ferret out any prejudices of potential jurors that could have an impact on how they interpret the high-profile case.

McGregor's proposed questions include asking the prospective jurors whether they think gambling is a sin and whether they have ever gambled themselves. Staunch beliefs that gambling is morally wrong could be a reason to excuse a prospective juror.

Lawyers for the self-made millionaire also want to ask the potential jurors whether they are offended or troubled by someone who has made a lot of money over the course of their business career.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson will decide which questions he will ask and how far he will let the lawyers go in questioning the panel.

Prosecutors said they want to ask potential jurors about any views they may hold on whether members of the Legislature and their staff should be allowed to solicit or accept payments and other things of value from private interests for doing their government jobs.

The case centers on the efforts last year by McGregor and Country Crossing owner Ronnie Gilley, who has struck a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty, to pass a bill that would hold a statewide referendum on allowing electronic bingo machines at their casinos and in other locations. The defendants in the case are accused of using offers of campaign contributions, a $1 million-a-year public relations job and polls and other campaign assistance to buy and sell votes for the bingo bill.

A lawyer for Smith said he wants to ask potential jurors about their knowledge of how political action committees work.

Thompson has said in intends to select several alternates for the trial, which is expected to last about two months. The jurors are being pulled from the northern division of the Middle District of Alabama. The counties do not include Macon and Houston, where Gilley and McGregor operated their bingo halls.

The jury selection process is estimated to last two days.

By Kim Chandler, The Birmingham News


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